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We're No. 1!

If you're keeping score at home, the new champions of the annual Rube Goldberg Machine Contest are a team of engineering students from Purdue University. In fact, this is the third straight year a Purdue team has won the competition, a tribute to the memory of Goldberg, an engineer-turned- cartoonist whose widely published drawings were of wacky, highly complex devices to perform even the simplest tasks, such as squeezing juice from an orange. Goldberg, his biography says, believed that a surprising number of people preferred doing things the hard way . So how did this year's winners triumph over their rivals? They designed a mechanism that removes the batteries from a flashlight, replaces them, and switches it on ... in 125 steps.

Looking for a cozy, little hotel? Then skip these

Bed-and-breakfast tourists might not know the names of the world's largest hotel groups, but frequent business travelers probably do. No. 1 on the latest list compiled by MKG Consulting is InterContinental, the British giant. It doesn't have as many hotels worldwide as Cendant, the American company that operates roughly 6,400 under the Days Inn, Super 8, and AmeriHost Inn brands, but it has more overall rooms. The only other non-American company in the top 10: Accor, a French hotelier. The world's largest operators, with the number of individual hotels and total number of rooms for each:

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1. InterContinental 3,540 hotels 534,202
2. Cendant 6,396 hotels 520,860
3. Marriott International 2,600 hotels 478,000
4. Accor 3,973 hotels 463,427
5. Choice 4,977 hotels 403,806
6. Hilton 2,259 hotels 358,408
7. Best Western 4,114 hotels 309,236
8. Starwood 733 hotels 230,667
9. Carlson Hospitality 850 hotels 147,093
10. Global Hyatt 356 hotels 111,474